Extinct Australian Tiger gene functions in mouse

SYDNEY, May 20 (Reuters) - For the first time DNA from an extinct species, Australia's marsupial Tasmanian Tiger, has been used to induce a functional response in a living organism, a mouse embryo, Australian and American scientists said on Tuesday.

The scientists extracted DNA from a 100-year-old Tasmanian Tiger or thylacine, which had been preserved in ethanol in a museum, and injected it into a mouse embryo where it was "expressed" or produced in cartilage.

The results, published in the international scientific journal PLoS ONE, show that the thylacine Col2A1 gene had a similar function in developing cartilage and bone development as the Col2A1 gene in the mouse, said the scientists from the University of Melbourne and the University of Texas.

"This is the first time that DNA from an extinct species has been used to induce a functional response in another living organism," said Andrew Pask from the University of Melbourne.

"The gene is actually being produced in the cartilage tissue. That tells us that that piece of DNA from the thylacine was actually important for the formation of their skeleton," Pask told Reuters.

The use of DNA from an extinct animal raises the prospect of developing new bio-medicines, such as genes that can help in cartilage rejuvenation, said Pask.

The thylacine, an enigmatic marsupial carnivore, was hunted to extinction in the wild in the early 1900s. The last known Tasmanian Tiger died in captivity in Hobart Zoo in 1936.

"At a time when extinction rates are increasing at an alarming rate, especially of mammals, this research discovery is critical," said Marilyn Renfree from the University of Melbourne.

"For those species that have already become extinct, our method shows that access to their genetic biodiversity may not be completely lost," she said. (Reporting by Michael Perry; Editing by Roger Crabb)